Recently, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote an Insider piece that looked at what the Indians should do moving forward.  His recommendation for Chris Antonetti was to be aggressive this winter, following the model of the Oakland Athletics in recent years.  He cites the fact that the Indians are weak in pitching at both the major and minor league levels and that they need to do something to fix that problem.  I figured I’d look at Olney’s suggestions and whether or not I agreed with them, plus I would highlight some of the key moves the A’s made.  Pretty much everyone (myself included) thought that Oakland would have a pretty dreadful season in 2012.  However, they managed to overtake the Rangers to win the division and took their ALDS series against the Tigers to five games.  Is there a way to dismantle and win at the same time, or was this something that can’t be replicated – either because it was a fluke, or because Oakland was just better positioned to do so (in terms of talent available and a smart front office)?

Olney’s suggestions are basically to trade a number of key players in the hopes that they can get a more useful return.  Here are the players he suggests the Indians deal in the coming months:

1. Asdrubal Cabrera.  His reasoning – Cabrera is only signed through 2014 and is a 27-year-old All Star caliber player.  There are several teams where Cabrera could be a fit, and the return could net the Indians some young pitching.  I would have to say that I see nothing wrong with this on the surface.  Cabrera’s value is high right now, and a shortstop that has some power could be highly coveted on the trade market.  The past two years he’s faded in the second half of the season, but he’s also been an All Star the past two years.  My only concern (as it would be with any of these scenarios) is that the Indians don’t screw this up.  There isn’t a lot of room for error with any trades, especially when you consider that the Indians have a relatively weak farm system.

2. Carlos Santana.  His reasoning – it’s unclear where Santana belongs moving forward, either at catcher or at first base.  He compares him to Jesus Montero, traded by the Yankees to the Seattle Mariners and making Montero’s positional issue their problem.  However the centerpiece of that deal, Michael Pineda, was hurt and did not pitch for the Yankees all season.  The Yankees can afford to make a mistake like that, but a team like the Indians cannot.  Because Santana is signed through 2016, and there are a lot of teams that need catching, the Indians could probably get a great return.  This is one where I disagree, and would hold onto Santana (at least for now).  He’s cheap, and under team control for at least four more seasons (he has an option year at the end of his deal).  This is the kind of player the Indians strive to get – a cheap player that they control for a number of years.  Last year, he led the team in WAR (tied with Jason Kipnis) and those two could basically be considered the team’s most valuable players in 2012.  I really think we haven’t seen the best of what Santana has to offer at this point.  Plus if he’s gone, who catches for the Indians?  Lou Marson?  Yan Gomes?  If you trade Santana, then you’re looking for a catcher, and you’re missing out on an impact bat, something the Indians farm system seems to lack.  (With the possible exception of Jesus Aguilar).

3. Chris Perez.  He should net a decent return and Vinnie Pestano could step into his place as closer.  I have no problem with trading Chris Perez, or with keeping him; despite his somewhat controversial public comments I don’t dislike him.  However, I just want to make sure the Indians look to trade him in a seller’s market.  For example, there were rumors they were looking to trade Perez last offseason.  It’s not as if I thought it was an overall poor idea to deal Perez, but the closers market was flooded last winter.  I don’t think they could have gotten the best deal possible.  I think this offseason may be more of a seller’s market, and if they get a good offer they should probably jump on it.

4. Shin-Soo Choo.  His reasoning – Choo won’t be coming back after this season with Scott Boras as an agent, and the Indians may be able to get more for him during the offseason, than at the trade deadline.  I would agree with this assessment – if the Indians get a good offer during the offseason, there’s no reason they should hold onto Choo.  However, they would need to have some kind of plan in place if they trade him, unless there is an outfielder somehow involved in the deal.  It wouldn’t be fun to watch a revolving door in both left field and right field next season.

5. Justin Masterson.  There may be interest with the Red Sox and Cubs, and may net a decent return for the Indians.  I don’t disagree with a Masterson trade in theory; it’s just that I wonder what return the Indians would get after he had such a bad season.  While they were definitely selling high on Esmil Rogers, this would be the ultimate selling low scenario.  Maybe there are teams willing to overlook last season’s performance, and view it as an anomaly, rather than the norm.

Out of those five suggested trades, there is really only one I completely disagree with, and several others I just question the timing and the potential amount of return.

If you take a look at Oakland, here are some of the notable moves they made last offseason:

December 9, 2011 – Traded RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Craig Breslow, and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Jarrod Parker, RHP Ryan Cook, and outfielder Collin Cowgill.  Parker went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.263 WHIP; his WAR of 3.8 led all A’s pitchers in 2012.  Ryan Cook went 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA and 0.941 WHIP; his 2.6 WAR was tied with Bartolo Colon for the second highest among pitchers on the Athletics.

December 23, 2011 – Traded LHP Gio Gonzalez and RHP Robert Gilliams to the Washington Nationals for catcher Derek Norris, RHP A.J. Cole, RHP Brad Peacock, and LHP Tommy Milone.  In 2012 Milone went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.279 WHIP; his 2.0 WAR was tied for fifth among A’s pitchers with Brandon McCarthy.

December 28, 2011 – Traded RHP Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox for outfielder Josh Reddick, 1B Miles Head, and RHP Raul Alcantara.  Reddick had a 4.5 WAR, the highest total of any offensive player (and any player in general) on the A’s roster, all for a salary of less than $500,000.  Great production at a low cost, especially considering that Bailey spent much of the season on the DL.

February 13, 2012 – Signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year/$36 million contract.  Even though he had a few injury issues this year, Cespedes still had almost 500 at-bats and hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs.  I know that he was viewed as a somewhat unknown quantity since he had yet to play in the United States, but Cespedes had a great year and helped propel the A’s to the playoffs.  A lot of Indians fans have expressed frustration that the Indians wouldn’t give Josh Willingham a deal, but I wish they would’ve gone for Cespedes (it was rumored that they had interest at one point).  But let’s be honest here – if the Indians were unwilling to give Willingham three years and $21 million, there was no way they were handing out this kind of money to Cespedes.  He was a good move for Oakland though – his 3.4 WAR was the second highest total on the team.

Oakland was ranked 14th out of all 30 MLB teams in offense (the Indians were 22nd) and 6th out of 30 in team pitching (the Indians were 29th).  Even though the A’s traded away some of their strong pitching, they were able to get more good pitching in return.  As a comparison to the 2011 season, the Indians were ranked 16 out of 30 in offense, while the A’s were ranked 20th.  The Indians’ pitching staff was ranked 23 out of 30, while the A’s staff was ranked 10th.  For the Indians to model the success of the A’s, they would have to get a mix of players that are major league-ready (or extremely close) and promising prospects.  They can’t afford to make more mistakes along the lines of Matt LaPorta or Jason Knapp.  As one commenter mentioned recently, the fans could rebel if the Indians traded a significant amount of players this offseason.  They need to find a way to improve though, and need to take whatever course of action is necessary.


  • Steve Alex says:

    So Buster is basically advocating a complete fire sale and rebuild. Why doesn’t he just say that? If you trade every player of value on your team with more than two years of service time, that’s a fire sale. I’m fine with that, but the idea of trading Santana is ridiculous and made the rest of his story unworthy of reading, let alone paying for. Even if you rebuild, you need someone to build around. As for fan backlash, I truly believe it can’t get any worse so there isn’t much downside. The season ticket base is all but gone and everyone is so angry. Your concern about the front office screwing it up is more valid. Their “more is better” philosophy of getting 3-for-1 or 4-for-1 brings quantity but not quality, and huge risk picks like Knapp was. The team got lucky getting Santana for Blake. Trying to flip him now is like a double-down in blackjack with 15, or winning on the slots and putting it all right back in the machine.

  • Cadfael says:

    Stephanie, I think my opinion lines up with yours fairly well. If we do trade assets, I only hope we can get some decent outfielders/pitching/first basemen in return. I do think we should hold onto Santana as long as possible. I guess my only question is, how far out is Francisco Lindor from being big league ready? That’s my main concern in an Asdrubal trade. If he’s close to ready, a core of Santana/Chisenhall/Lindor/Kipnis/Brantley and whatever assets we get isn’t the worst looking scenario in the world.

    • Josh says:

      Lindor has at least 2 more seasons before he even sees the big leagues. Everyone needs to remember that he is NOT a Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, and other than Advanced plate discipline he is not elite on offense. He is a plus base runner and plus defender. I would not be surprised to see one of the better offensive shortstops like Ronny Rodriguez pass him in the orginization. I would actually reccomend that the Indians trade Lindor because of how highly ranked he is on the prospect rankings. Regardless how great his glove is, his .257 .352 .355 triple slash is not going to cut it in the major leagues. It’s sort of how they claim that Chisenhall is the 3B of the future, but he walks only like 1/100 plate appearances. I personally don’t ever see Lindor as being a core player in cleveland. On a team that’s starved of offense 90% of the time a defensive specialist is not going to survive without being at least average on offense.

  • Josh says:

    Don’t take my last comment as an indication i’m against trading Cabrera though. (although he is my favorite player since 2007) I think another major league club will vastly overpay for his services via trade, and it could be the single trade that rights the ship in Cleveland. I just don’t think that Francisco Lindor is going to be the answer as his replacement. Juan Diaz would get consideration after the 2013 season and maybe even during. The Indians have a plethora of good shortstop prospects in the minors right now, so I think that a Cabrera trade could pan out quite well.

    My only objection is that Cabrera seems to be the only true clutch hitter they have. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems like everytime they need a hit or someone to get on base he’s able to do that. It just depends on what the orginization wants. I think the Indians can be a .500 team this year by just trading Perez and Choo and maybe 1 or 2 more minor trades of FA signings. Not every Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon signing is going to fail. Or, if they want to go the route of total rebuild, they can lose even more fans and and not see the postseason for antoher 5 years if they can actually pull of decent trades.

  • Keith says:

    Great stuff. I’d read Olney’s piece too and feel the same way you do, Stephanie. Choo isn’t exactly coming off a stellar year so I feel like he wouldn’t get the return you’d really like to see. I think he’d be better dealt at the trade deadline if the Tribe is out of contention. I believe the front office has done a poor job on a variety of trades (ubaldo!!!!) but for many of the trades they’ve made, we have to remember that we only gave up about 10 weeks of a player’s services in exchange for players under control for years at little cost. The Sabathia trade happened when Cleveland was in last place, with about 11 weeks left in the season, after which Sabathia would become a free agent. It hurts to see these great players go, but we have to keep in mind that getting years of Michael Brantley plus the added payroll flexibilty is actually worth more than 11 weeks of Sabathia when the Indians were already out of the race. Even if LaPorta ended up being a bust. And let’s not forget that Shin-Soo Choo came here via a trade too. Just sayin’ – I get frustrated with the results on the field, but am actually feeling a need to defend the front office a bit.

  • Drew says:

    I really think that some team will overpay for Choo or Cabrera or both and that the Indians will have another hole with which to deal in 2013.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    Can I say first of all, that I’m loving the discussion so far this offseason? Nobody ever wants to talk baseball with me after October, and it always thrills me to come on here and see such thoughtful comments! A lot of times it makes me look at things from a different perspective, which I also really love.

    Also, MLB Trade Rumors had a story today about how Antonetti is fielding calls on several of these guys: It could be an interesting offseason, although I think things may not get rolling full steam until the winter meetings.

    I have to say that I’m a little less frustrated about Matt LaPorta being a bust, than some of the stuff in the Cliff Lee deal. Because to be fair, Matt LaPorta fooled the Brewers too…they took him 7th overall in the draft. Plus I think some of the warning signs were less obvious when he was mashing in the minors (or they thought his issues could be repaired). Jason Knapp frustrates me to no end, because it seems like they knew he had shoulder issues when they took him. I really think they went for quantity over quality in that one.

    So here’s a question – (that may be worth a separate post) the Mets parted ways with Jason Bay today. Do you try to rescue him off the scrap heap, or avoid that one like the plague?

  • Steve Alex says:

    If the Indians rebuild and trade all of the people being discussed, then we’ll see a very young team again for a couple of years, with bargain basement free agents filling in here and there until newly acquired prospects are ready to step in. If they try to win with the current group and improve quickly through trades, then we might see just one or two trades that will bring major league-ready young players and see what Francona can do with them. Either plan has merit. What would be bad is if the team just aimlessly drifts from one transaction to the next without any clear direction of when they are going to try to win. Shapiro promised us after the Robby Alomar trade that he would never go halfway on a rebuild like that again. I hope he remembers that promise, because acquiring Ubaldo last year and then not getting a hitter over the winter seemed rather inconsistent in terms of win now versus win later. In other words, why did we mortgage our future in the Ubaldo trade if we aren’t trying to win?

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I was in Kansas City a few years ago for a conference and happened to go to a luncheon with the Royals’ GM and then to a Royals game. I honestly felt bad for Royals fans, because it’s really been one “rebuilding” after the next. Although the rebuilding never stops…it just keeps going with no visible results. They were frustrated then, and that was several years ago now. I honestly don’t want to turn into that, just a never ending cycle of rebuildings that never produce anything.